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Mind Rape and the Christian Right
Posted on Jul 21, 2013
By Chris Hedges
Breakfast was served at 6:30. And on her first morning in Ocoee she was taken to “morning intercession,” which would occur every day for the three months of Lyons’ initial indoctrination. It was held in a place called the “war room” in another house on the cul-de-sac where the group owns four or five houses. The war room was open and lined on two sides by single rows of folding chairs. The men sat on one side. The women sat on the other. Lyons was told when she entered the war room that she was not permitted to talk to or have eye contact with the men either there or outside. Segregation of the sexes was rigidly enforced. Courtship and relationships could be carried out within the community only if they were approved and mediated by the pastor. Relationships outside the community were forbidden.
All new arrivals during their first three months spent every morning and every afternoon in the war room “doing teachings,” which consisted of listening to recordings from Pastor Guy Iannello’s Eternal Library of 800 Teachings. They were required to take copious notes. Lyons showed me a stack of about a dozen white legal pads filled with her notes. After three months, if program approval was granted, a resident was permitted to get an outside job to help support the ministry. By that time, residents typically had severed ties with most friends and relatives.
The morning routine included recorded religious music followed by prayer. There were prayers for orphans, single mothers or fathers and those who had been abandoned. Then the group prayed in tongues. She wondered: “What does this have to do with helping me with my problem?”
At 8:30 a.m. on her first full day at the compound she was taken to the office to see “Mom,” the pastor’s mother-in-law. She was given a lengthy form and told to circle all her “sins,” such as sex before marriage, lesbianism, sodomy, masturbation, adultery, oral sex, abortion, vanity, self-pity, swearing or cursing. She circled the words that applied to her. It was only later, she said, that she was told that each of these sins was “identified as a demon.”
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Lyons complained to Mom that she could not speak in tongues, to which Mom replied: “Yabba dabba doo. Just start saying, ‘Yabba dabba doo,’ and the Holy Spirit will help you. Fake it until you make it.” Mom told Lyons she was “being rebellious” and that “rebellion is witchcraft.” “That was a huge thing that they played on,” Lyons said, “that whole rebellion thing.”
She still refused to sign the forms. She was ushered into the pastor’s office to see a video called “You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See.” All who were inducted into the community were required to watch it. She met with Iannello on the second day. He told her to sign the forms and give the program two weeks. She signed.
Because Lyons’ second night at the compound was a Tuesday, she was taken with the other members of the community to Way of Grace Church in Ocoee. The eight female residents of the Total Freedom Program community sat on one side of the church, and the 20 male residents sat on the other. About 15 outsiders joined them. Lyons listened to a sermon on obedience to God. Mom told her later that God had put the message in the preacher’s heart to address Lyons’ rebelliousness.
On Friday nights the group held services in the sanctuary of the Ocoee Oaks Church.
During the daily indoctrination Lyons sat in the war room from 8:30 to noon listening to recordings and taking notes. She went back after lunch to sit there from 1 to 4. During the rest of the day she was confined to her house.
“I was trying to do some [physical] exercise,” Lyons said. “They’re like, ‘You can’t do that. You have to put God first. If you get done with God, then you can exercise.’ ”
She repeated to me the core of the pastor’s message: “You came here thinking you had a problem with drugs and alcohol, but this is a Holy Spirit stickup and this is Holy Spirit boot camp. You’re going to find the Holy Spirit. You’re going to find your hope and your faith. You’re going to find God. You’re going to find that which you didn’t have. You’re going to be disciples of God.”
“The constant theme is a chain of command, of authority, God being the ultimate authority,” Lyons said, “and that he [God] assigned people to you to watch over you, your spiritual father.”
“It’s very much like boot camp in the Army,” she said. “Pastor Guy used to be in the [Navy]. He also used to be a big drug lord. Then he got saved, supposedly. So now he has this ministry on the cul-de-sac. A lot of the programming is to get you thinking there’s obedience and there’s rebellion—[and rebellion] is what caused your problems in the first place. They get you hooked into a different way of thinking that your problem is demons.”
“They made me get a food stamp card,” she said, handing me a copy of her application for food stamps. “Then when I got my food stamp card it went to the house mom. The house mom who bought the groceries used all of our food stamp cards.”
By the end of the three months Lyons was broken and obedient. She was permitted to look for an outside job. She wanted nothing to do with those who had been her friends before she went to Florida. She believed they were heathens and conduits of demons into her life.
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